Western sneaks by Fort Hays State with big conference win

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Sam Brown, left, and Evan Jennings, right react to incomplete pass to seal Western's 26-21 win over Fort Hays State, Aaturday in Spratt Stadium. A teammate rushes over to celebrate with Brown. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor
Sam Brown, left, and Evan Jennings, right react to incomplete pass to seal Western’s 26-21 win over Fort Hays State, Aaturday in Spratt Stadium. A teammate rushes over to celebrate with Brown. Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor

Survival.
That is what it was all about for the Griffons in their 26-21 victory against Fort Hays State on Saturday in Spratt Stadium.
The clock reads 0:01 in the fourth quarter. The Griffons hold a five-point lead.
The two teams had run 150 total plays up to this moment and it all comes down to this play.
The official places the ball ready for play seven yards away from the end zone. Tigers’ quarterback Treveon Albert looks to his right where Isaiah Maxi is covered by Griffon star corner Mike Jordan. He looks to his left where Evan Jennings is matched up with Sam Brown.
Albert calls for the snap. Brown drops into his coverage knowing that the game and possibly the teams’ playoff hopes will likely depend on his ability to force an incomplete pass on this play.
“My heart was beating a bit,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, this is what I train for every day.”
Albert lofts a pass in Jennings and Brown’s direction as the two players exchange slight shoves in an effort to gain a positioning advantage over their opponent.
“(The officials) let them play at the end,” head coach Jerry Partridge said. “Thank heavens.”
As the players leap for the ball in the back corner of the end zone, the ball hits Jennings’ hands as Brown knocks it away from behind. Brown and Jennings tumble to the ground, just as the ball does, hitting the turf and ending the game.
“It played out in slow-motion,” Brown said. “The only thing I was thinking about was making sure that I won at the end of the day.”
Jennings and his teammates immediately begin to call for a flag to no avail, while Brown and his teammates celebrate their survival.
The Griffons were able to have the lead to hold on to thanks to a very strong first half. Injuries, again, bit them early though.
T.J. LaFaver was pushed into action for the second-straight home game, as starting quarterback Skyler Windmiller injured his thumb in the first quarter. LaFaver started two weeks ago against Lindenwood, as Windmiller recovered from a concussion, and performed well in the only extended action he has seen this season.
LaFaver played well again against the Tigers on Saturday. He threw for 163 yards on 13-of-21 passing while also turning in 2-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“T.J. is such a dynamic threat,” running back Raphael Spencer said. “Seeing him blossom into the player he is today, it does something for me; it does something for everyone.”
The biggest play came on a deep bomb from LaFaver to DiJuan Ussery. Ussery ran under the 40-yard pass to give his team a 10-7 lead with 6:22 left in the first half.
“That’s all DiJuan,” LaFaver said. “Just getting open and all I got to do is get him the ball.”
Spencer padded the lead with an eight-yard touchdown run with just over a minute left in the half. Tanner Pettet missed the extra point to keep the advantage at nine points.
Pettet redeemed himself and continued his up and down season with a 51-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
“Tanner, leg-strength-wise, is in the category of all but (Greg Zuerlein),” Partridge said when discussing how Pettet stacks up against other kickers he’s had a Western.
Spencer finished with 28 carries for 160 yards and helped Western out-rush the MIAA’s top running team by 47 yards.
“To out-rush the leading rushing team in the MIAA was big,” Partridge said.
The teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter and Western maintained their 12-point lead.
An early fourth quarter Albert touchdown set the stage for Brown’s heroics and the Griffons survived again.
Western has one more week to survive, and keep their playoff hopes alive, before attempting to make a statement on the national-level and get signature wins against Emporia State and Northwest Missouri State.
This week, Western welcomes their home opponent 3-3 Washburn to Spratt Stadium. After Washburn, Western faces undefeated Emporia State and Northwest in consecutive weeks.
In order to make the playoffs, Western is likely going to have to continue to survive and run the table the rest of the way.

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